Saturday, March 2, 2013
"Dungeons": A Strange Sameness
I recently acquired a second copy of Bruce Galloway's The Highest Level of All Fantasy Wargaming. I've had a copy of the larger quarto (letter-sized) since it came out in the states back in '82, but the new copy is the octavo (hardcover novel sized) put out through Science Fiction book clubs. It's been a while since I cracked this open, but when I opened the book to insert the receipt before leaving the store, it serendipitously opened on the following passage (p. 103)...
Designing a "dungeon" or adventure
... The basic idea. Surprisingly for games that are claimed to have infinite possibilities, the design of "dungeons" seems to take on a strange sameness: a deserted or ruined building, a secret entrance, a number of levels inhabited by monsters and containing traps, treasures and magic in various forms."
He really just goes on from there to tell you how to make things more interesting. He references Fritz Leiber's Swords Against Wizardry, and R.E. Howard's Conan story Red Nails, and makes some general mentions of legends and myths (as categories for inspiration, but nothing particular). Yes, I know what you're thinking... Bruce selected 2 individual books that were each included in an entire series mentioned in the DMG's Appendix N. But cut Bruce some slack; what he presents in the next few pages is a sort of checklist for GMs, telling them to (in my words) paint both the broad strokes (the setting, the society, etc.) and the finer details (e.g., trap mechanisms) in order to create as many vivid role-playing opportunities as possible. Now give Bruce some credit, he was developing what would become THLOAFW during the late 70s, about the same time the 1E hardbacks were being published, and given the lead time on writing/editing/typesetting/printing in those days, it's entirely possible this section was written before Bruce ever saw a copy of the 1E DMG.
In 81/82, Bruce abandoned gaming for other interests, and died tragically in an accident in 1984. I encourage you to read Mike Monaco's very long and detailed post about THLOAFW from back in October of 2010 (or re-read if it's been a while). It's got some wonderful insights from Bruce's friend Nick Lowe (one of the writers and shared copyright holders on THLOAFW), and a "Cover to Cover" review of THLOAFW by Mike.